June, 2014 is the 50th anniversary of my career in advertising. Since so much has changed during those years, I thought it might be time to recall some of the highlights (and perhaps some lowlights) to share with you the joy of having a job that I truly enjoy.
My mother started teaching me to draw when I was 2 years old. My dad, who spent 48 years on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, always told me, even as a pre-schooler, “Whatever you do, get a job that you can enjoy doing. I hate my job, but it’s the only way I know to support the family.” Therefore it was at age 4 that I decided I wanted to create full color spread ads in Life Magazine.
Here is the first installment:
My 50 Years in Advertising—The Beginning
Anyone trying to get their first job always dreads that terrible question, “Do you have any work experience?” It got to the point when I was asked that question I would answer, “Hire me and I’ll have work experience!”
50 years ago, in June, 1964, I was sitting in John Jones’ office with John and the two other owners, Ben Jaroslaw and Allan Kass of Art Group & Artstaff—one of the three top art studios in Detroit at that time. I had shown the three men my portfolio individually and was asked to go out and come back in an hour so the three of them could discuss their opinions on whether to hire me.
I came back in and sat down with the three of them. They had nice things to say about my samples, they asked a few more questions, and they each seemed to be leaning toward hiring me, but no one had made the offer yet. So when there was a pause in the conversation, I said, “Well, when do I start?” “Nothing like getting right to the point,” John Jones laughed. “Can you start tomorrow?” “Yes, after my one final exam in the morning,” I replied. And that’s how I got my first job in advertising—a mat room apprentice working for minimum wage (which at that time was $1.25 an hour)!
That summer was eyeopening! I got to work around and talk with some of the best illustrators in the business, I learned about something I’d not heard of called “retouching,” got myself an airbrush and a compressor, and duplicated what the retouchers were being asked to do using the cull dye transfer prints. I learned to brush rule—painting a long straight line by skillfully dragging my Windsor & Newton brush across the metal edge of a wooden ruler—something very handy when you wanted to add a chrome strip on the side of a car in a photo. I actually got good enough at retouching that in the Fall, when I was back in school at Wayne State U., they called me in to help on a huge quantity of photos to retouch for one of their clients.
I did something each day that summer that got more than a few comments. Whereas the head apprentice wore a t-shirt and jeans everyday, I wore dress slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie. As far as I was concerned, I was being sly as a fox because very quickly, I became the person who was sent to deliver jobs to clients in ad agencies. That gave me a chance to meet art directors and creative directors at JWT and Y&R as well as other downtown agencies—and for them to get to know me.
I had confirmed that summer that the job I had always wanted since I was four was to be an art director. I continued to work in art studios the next year—this time at Graphic House—another one of the 3 top art studios in town. What I saw in the studios were art directors asking for things that were almost impossible—or at least the deadlines were impossible for what was being requested. I heard illustrators and retouchers alike mumbling about the art directors as they worked into the wee hours of the morning. I decided I was going to be an art director that understood what I was asking the studio person to accomplish—something I’ve never regretted.
That summer was a wonderful foundation. It made the class projects I did in my 4th year at WSU much more meaningful and 30 years later, when I started Boundless Creativity, all that experience and skills I developed at those first two jobs came to bear as I translated those traditional art skills into digital.
At the end of that first summer, as far as I was concerned, the best result was that in the future when someone asked me, “Do you have any work experience?” I could happily reply, “I worked at Art Group & Artstaff.” I had passed the first rite of initiation!